May 23, 2000

Phone booth in desert disappears

Mojave visitors can no longer phone home from a once famous communication site.

By Keith Rogers
Las Vegas Review-Journal

The number for the lonely pay phone in the Mojave Desert still rings, but the booth that once caught the attention of curiosity seekers around the world is gone.

Pacific Bell technicians with the concurrence of the National Park Service removed the famous phone booth last week from its remote location in the Mojave National Preserve in California, 75 miles southwest of the Nevada border. That's where it had stood since the 1960s to serve the nearby Cima Cinder Mine and wanderers out that way.

Pacific Bell and National Park Service officials said the phone booth had become so well-known from media exposure and Web sites that chronicled its existence that travelers were damaging fragile desert resources. And that outweighed its public service needs, they said.

"Certainly the phone and its location proved to be a novelty for some in recent months but that all had an impact," explained Steve Getzug, a Pacific Bell spokesman in Los Angeles.

He confirmed the booth was removed Wednesday and said it was hauled to a company service yard in Southern California.

Calls to the booth's number, (760) 733-9969, rang endlessly Monday, but one Web site that posts information about the so-called Mojave Phone Booth, claims dialers were hearing a "phantom ring."

Removal of the booth "was probably inevitable given the hyper-attention the booth attracted (and) federal involvement," according to the Web site known as "Deuce of Clubs."

Mojave National Preserve Superintendent Mary Martin said problems with travelers in search of the phone booth had increased in recent months.

"We had a fire out there a couple weeks ago from a blazing campfire," she said, noting that decorative rocks had been used to spell messages near the booth and vandalism was commonplace.

Ranchers in the area also complained that sightseers were pestering them to find the booth and some became stranded and sought their help.

"We've had a lot of cars that have gone out there and been stuck," Martin said.

Getzug said callers to the number will probably hear endless ringing for a few more days but once the disconnect order is processed there will be a message that the number is no longer in service. Plans call for removing the telephone lines that led to the booth.

Pacific Bell's right of way for the booth and transmission lines expired in 1992.

"It was sort of out of sight and out of mind for a number of years," Getzug said.